By Marlies Augustijn
— AMSTERDAM – Art gallery Galerie Ron Mandos, located in the city center, presents the exhibition Korean Contemporary: Fusion. The title reflects the show’s aim to build a bridge between – fusing – the East and West.
The exhibition is put on by gallery owner Ron Mandos and guest curators Jeannette ten Kate, art consultant and director of the Art’s Club for art collectors, and Edwin van Wijngaarden, owner of the fashion label Just B.
The Herring spoke with Mandos and Ten Kate about the exhibition. In addition, AUC professor Paramita Paul visited the show for The Herring in order to comment on the issues the exhibition raises. Paul holds a PhD in East Asian art and teaches the new course Art in China at AUC.
The guest curators of the show, Ten Kate and Van Wijngaarden, shared a mutual interest in Asian culture and decided to launch the initiative B2. This initiative aims to provide a platform for up-and-coming artists from the Far East to launch their careers in the Western art world.
“There is an essential difference between the art market that we know and what is actually happening,” Ten Kate said. According to Ten Kate, the exhibition aims to visualize developments in Korean art which show that Korea is keeping up with the international art world.
The aim of the exhibition was what first of all evoked some critical thoughts with East Asian expert Paul.
Paul referred to the common characteristic of contemporary art to transcend boundaries. Contemporary artists try to make their work appeal to an international audience, even if references to their native country could be visible in the work. The exhibition Korean Contemporary: Fusion demonstrates the artists’ longing for an international audience, yet the show’s title explicitly refers to one country.
According to Paul, this is because it is still difficult to define contemporary art.
“There is the contemporary of which we’re not really sure what it is yet,” Paul said. “Is it national? Does it belong to a particular nation state? Or, can we switch identities? Has identity become something variable in the world?”
Korean Contemporary: Fusion displays the work of four Korean artists from Seoul – Jiyen Lee, Ji Eun Kim, Jung Lee, and Wonkun Jun. This is the first time their work is on display in the Netherlands. The artists work with a wide variety of media, such as installation, video, photography, collage, and painting.
According to Mandos, the artists were selected on their original ideas and high-quality craftsmanship. Ten Kate added, “These artists want to detach their works from the Korean context.”
The large photographs of Jiyen Lee for example, show the extensive technological progress that Korea faces and how this changes the visual culture of the country. Yet, she depicts “means of transport,” such as elevators and escalators, and building types, such as glass apartments, that an international audience can relate to.
Paul felt that the exhibition implied that only some trends occurring in Korea are similar to trends in the West, but most trends are different.
“I understand that there is a need to know more about the East,” Paul said. “But whether we should see that as opposite to what’s happening in the West, it’s a big issue.”
Paul especially liked the work of Jiyen Lee, who she felt was trying to appeal to an urban and especially international audience. Paul said, “I felt that the first way in which the artists would qualify themselves [as international artists], before saying they were contemporary Korean artists that were doing something contemporary Korean.”
Of the exhibition’s invitation to the visitor to compare Korean contemporary art with Western contemporary art, Paul said, “It is natural because it is part of the practice of seeing things and how you would understand the Other. You look for things that are similar, and you look for things that are different.”
According to Paul, we should try to move to a situation where we start questioning this tendency. “These initiatives are steps in that direction,” Paul said. “The instruction part was great, more people should see this. But then perhaps [curators should] start with a different question, or different reason to set up a show like this. One way of questioning a show like this would be to interview artists, to get artists to talk about their work, or to put perhaps the artist’s head next to the image and see what they have to say.”
The curators believe they have succeeded in introducing a relatively unexplored part of the Asian art scene to a Western audience. “For cosmopolitans, how much fun is it to become aware [of new developments in the international art world],” said Ten Kate.
Korea Contemporary: Fusion will run till May 2, 2015 in Galerie Ron Mandos, Prinsengracht 282.